Hong Kong Art Week

Art Basel 2015

The word is spreading about homegrown Chai Wan arts festival

Mix of visitors changing, with more locals and fewer spilling over from main Art Basel event

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 March, 2015, 3:10pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 March, 2015, 2:20pm

For two days only, the industrial neighbourhood of Chai Wan comes alive with creativity each year to coincide with the city's main art fair. The fourth edition of the Chai Wan Mei Art & Design Festival, open to the public this Art Basel weekend, has a wide spectrum of exhibitions, performances, workshops and guerilla art installations by artists, designers and photographers of both local and international renown. Edmund Lee checks in with the evolving arts community at the far eastern end of Hong Kong Island.

When we visited Chai Wan  several hours before the festival’s popular dance party on Saturday night, many of the venues were sparsely populated – giving us more opportunity to appreciate the art and meet the artists.

A long-time member of the Chai Wan art community, artist Movana Chen observed that while the number of visitors is similar to last year’s, there is a decrease in the number of people coming by through Art Basel’s VIP tours.

“More of the visitors this year are individuals who had heard about Chai Wan Mei and came here specifically,” says Chen, who is also the curator and manager of YY9 Gallery. Located inside Chai Wan Industrial City Phase 1, the space is presenting “In Conversations with 100 Local Artists”, a group show to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Chen estimates that she has spotted over 100 visitors – including collectors, students and tourists – at her gallery on the first day of Chai Wan Mei. “A big group of Hong Kong-based French people came by just now,” she says. “They had known about Fo Tan’s [art studios] before, but this is the first time they learned about Chai Wan.”

It turns out that the rising profile of Chai Wan Mei hasn’t only attracted new visitors to the blocks; there are new organisers joining the fun as well.

“Chai Wan Mei is the ideal platform to launch this organisation because it has so many visitors from Chai Wan, from [the rest of] Hong Kong, and also from Art Basel,” says Leslie Van Eyck, co-founder and director of WING, a new platform for screenings and small-scale performances on the top floor of Chai Wan Industrial City Phase 2.

Having moved here from Belgium almost five years ago, Van Eyck’s private initiative took up the Chai Wan space last September with the objective of linking Hong Kong practitioners in visual arts, dance and theatre to her European connections. Themed around storytelling, this well-attended programme at Chai Wan Mei marks the launch of the organisation.

“Because the weather is nice, we can use all the spaces – not only inside but also outside, including the terrace and the rooftop,” she says. “I feel that most people are surprised to find this in an industrial building. People are very relaxed: they stay here not only for the performances but also to meet, to talk together, to eat and to drink.”

The main programme this year is a group show titled “Videos and Words from a Post-Industrial City”. Curated by Inti Guerrero and scattered across four floors inside Chai Wan Industrial City Phase 1, the exhibition showcases both video and text-based, neon-light pieces, with the former mostly contributed by overseas artists and the latter by their Hong Kong counterparts.

While the video works provide an intriguing range of perspectives to consider the urban landscape, a few of the exhibiting local artists – such as Chloe Cheuk, Samson Young, Ko Sin-tung and Kacey Wong,– reveal that the ongoing social turmoil and economic inequality in Hong Kong are still very much on their minds.

Apart from exhibitions at galleries such as 10 Chancery Lane, Platform China and Artify Gallery, the studio openings by artists and photographers – including Carol Lee, Almond Chu and Michael Wolf – allow audiences to learn about their art practices in a slightly more intimate setting.

As the Chai Wan industrial district has long been home to studios of many of Hong Kong’s best fine-art and fashion photographers, the Hong Kong Institute of Professional Photographers is presenting a “Chai Wan Day” programme of open studios and demonstrations to coincide with the Chai Wan Mei weekend on March 14 and 15.

As always, the first day of events concluded with a memorable bash in the raw space of Asia One Tower’s ground level. Again hosted by Yana and Stephen Peel, this year’s Chai Wan Nites Art Party was designed by the Hong Kong-based artist duo MAP Office, namely Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix.

As a shout-out to venue provider Asia One, a printing company, paper waste has been collected inside the surrounding buildings for the past six weeks to be made into large installations which were on view at the dance party. “The idea was to design the party with all the materials that are coming from the factory,” says Portefaix.

After the event, the paper decorations are set to be recycled and turned into toilet paper. “So everybody in Hong Kong will clean his ass with this party,” she says with a laugh.

To continue the festival’s focus on text-based works, a large neon piece by Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija urging visitors “not to work” greeted them at the entrance; Tsang Kin-wah – who will represent Hong Kong at the Venice Biennale this year – had also scaled down a video projection previously shown at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum to fit the ceiling behind the bar.

Against music curated by Shane Aspegren (of the renowned electronics and percussion duo Berg Sans Nipple), party-goers were sometimes playfully interrupted by French artist Didier Faustino, who ran around and talked to people with a modified loudspeaker device as part of his performance.

“For me, the most important part is to bring the spirit of Chai Wan to this party. I want the crowd to understand where they’re coming [to],” says Portefaix, who has spent the last five of her 20 years in Hong Kong living in the district. “I love Chai Wan, and I want everybody to love Chai Wan.”